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Area artist, known for wildlife paintings, dies at age 85 in Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG — Local artist Don Whitlatch, known for his realistic paintings of wildlife, died Saturday morning. He was 85.

Whitlatch, a Parkersburg native, graduated from Parkersburg High School and served in the U.S. Air Force. He also attended West Virginia University and Ohio University.

Abby Hayhurst, director of the Parkersburg Art Center, commented on Whitlatch’s passing Saturday.

“Today a great art luminary left us. Don Whitlatch was a painter and a naturalist of immeasurable talent,” she said. “Appointed West Virginia’s State Artist many years ago, he and his works are well-known not only in this state, but are in museums and private collections from Japan to Finland.

“Whitlatch was a pillar of the Parkersburg Art Center and when he left us, a bright light went out. Our deepest condolences to Norma and to their children and grandchildren. It is very hard to imagine a world that doesn’t have Don Whitlatch in it,” she said.

Hayhurst said she got to know Whitlatch during the planning and opening of the Parkersburg Art Center facility on Market Street, which has a gallery named for him and his wife. The art center had homes in two other locations in Parkersburg before moving into its current location.

“At the time I got involved, he was beginning to wind down as his health was beginning to fail,” she said. “The thing that was so tragic was the first thing to go was his eyesight; it frustrated him but I know his presence is everywhere.”

Hayhurst said Whitlatch was a bit of a curmudgeon. He was demanding but at the same time he would push and support.

“He would do anything for you but growl the entire time,” she said. “He is one of the top 10 artists West Virginia has ever produced and for a while he enjoyed a position on the top 100 naturalists of the world.”

Noted for his realistic portrayal of birds, animals, and plants, Whitlatch has published limited edition prints of his paintings for more than 30 years.

He worked for an advertising company and then started his own design studio. After suffering a heart attack at 38, he left advertising and concentrated on developing his artistic abilities. His earliest works were watercolors of birds.

According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, in the early 1990s, Whitlatch accepted a four-year commission to paint scenes of Colonial Williamsburg. This was followed by orders to paint holes of famous golf courses, including the fourth hole at Cascades Course at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., the sixth at the Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, and the 16th at Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament.

Honors for Whitlatch include selection by the Audubon Society for the group’s first art auction, one of 21 international artists chosen. A Whitlatch painting of the American bald eagle was presented to the White House during the Nixon administration. He served 17 years as the state’s wildlife artist-in-residence.

Whitlatch established the first West Virginia chapters of Ducks Unlimited, National Ruffed Grouse Society, and Quail Unlimited, and donated his art to help these groups raise funds.

Funeral arrangements for Whitlatch are being planned and will be announced by Lambert-Tatman Funeral Home, 400 Green St., Parkersburg.

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